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Weekend Warriors

by Jessica Beym

Show Business: News anchors, top-level executives and government leaders all take a turn in the spotlight with local community theater groups.

Back when he was in the ninth grade, Rick Williams’ high school drama teacher urged him to audition for a part in Guys and Dolls. It was his first taste of life on the stage. But it wasn’t until Williams’ 8-year-old son, Nicholas, wanted to participate in a Moorestown Theater Company (MTC) Summer Stage production a few years ago that Williams considered reprising that role.

In his day job as a news anchor, Williams reaches tens of thousands of viewers on 6 ABC’s Action News at noon and 5 p.m. Yet, he gets a special satisfaction out of performing for a more intimate crowd—most recently as Nathan Detroit, in an MTC production of Guys and Dolls. “It allows me to use a part of my creativity that I don’t get to use on the air,” says Williams, taking a break from a rehearsal at Hope Community Church on Moorestown’s Main Street. “It’s a nice escape from the doom and gloom of television.”

Despite a hectic and oftentimes demanding schedule, Williams—like many other prominent businesspeople in South Jersey—finds time to step out of character and try on a more fanciful persona via the region’s local theater groups. And it’s not just TV personalities: Doctors and college professors, attorneys and bank presidents, even the Burlington County Bridge Commissioner have all been known to don a powdered wig or a zoot suit in the name of community theater.

For Williams, this stage presence comes fairly easily—even without the help of a teleprompter. But for some of his fellow cast members, including his wife, Jocelyn, it doesn’t come quite so naturally. An M.D., Ph.D. and assistant dean at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, Jocelyn Williams was more comfortable in the audience than onstage. But when her husband and son were in the King and I last summer, (Williams landed the role of the King after only intending to sign up for the chorus), they convinced her to join in and make it a family affair.

“It’s a nice outlet for us,” says Jocelyn, who played a Hot Box dancer in Guys and Dolls. “It’s going out of my comfort zone, so it’s good to do that every once in awhile.”

Still, transitioning from the nine-to-five grind to a 7 p.m. curtain can present its challenges, admits Kristi Howell-Ikeda, the president and chief executive of the Burlington County Chamber of Commerce.

“Sometimes I don’t make the transition,” she jokes during rehearsal, after arriving in her buttoned-up business suit. “But it has actually helped me do something that I really needed to do, which is kind of de-stress and have fun.”

Even speaking two lines on stage in front of a packed house was intimidating to Howell-Ikeda at first. Her only drama experience prior to performing with MTC had been a few sorority shows in college. But now, she says, performing has become a great way to forget about the next day’s board meetings.

Other performers note that acting may not be so different from their day jobs after all.

Take Tom McHale, a senior vice president with PNC Investments, who shed his shirt and tie for a baseball cap, jogging pants and sneakers before he started reciting his lines as the gambler Sky Masterson. At work, McHale puts together investment portfolios for business owners, or makes financial presentations to larger audiences. “You’re on stage one way or another, whether it’s in a small client setting or in front of 40 or 50 people,” he says.

And yet, he adds, theater is “completely different than anything else. It really is intoxicating.” Drew Molotsky, a divorce lawyer with Becker Meisel in Cherry Hill, agrees. Molotsky has been involved with theater ever since his years at Cherry Hill High School West, when the entire soccer team was recruited for a production of West Side Story. “The choreographer needed boys,” Molotsky recalls. “She said, ‘Get me the soccer players. They’re coordinated with their feet, so I’ll teach them to dance.’”

These days, the Mount Laurel resident is active with the Broadway Theatre of Pitman, where he recently directed a production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. “There’s a saying that those who can’t act, direct, and those who can’t direct, direct musicals,” Molotsky jokes.

Molotsky says it’s not merely an escape: onstage drama may actually give him a leg up in courtroom dramas as well. “There’s a lot of theatrics in the courtroom, in the way you present yourself, in the mechanics of speech and in presentation of material,” he says. “Exercising the creative muscle in theater keeps that muscle strong for us in other ways, when I’m forced to be creative in my professional life.”

In the Spotlight

Check out one of these upcoming productions for yourself—you never know who might be starring!

The Broadway Theatre of Pitman
Singin’ in the Rain
Through Feb. 7
43 S. Broadway, Pitman
(856) 384-8381

Moorestown Theater Company
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
July 14-23
Hope Community Church
235 W. Main St., Moorestown
(856) 778-8357

Haddonfield Plays and Players
Of Mice and Men
Feb. 3-19
957 E. Atlantic Ave., Haddonfield
(856) 429-8139

Burlington County Footlighters
May 6-21
808 Pomona Road, Riverton
(856) 829-7144

In photo: 6 ABC’s Rick Williams, (center) stars in Moorestown Theater Company’s Guys and Dolls.

Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Biz, Volume 1, Issue 1 (January, 2011).